Minorities and Advertising
Singer Mary J. Blige Receives Criticism For Singing About Chicken
Lets look at how we got here. In many ways the history of advertising to minorities is best told through the prism of African-American consumers. In 1920 African-Americans were spending over 1 billion dollars on consumer goods yet were virtually invisible in advertisements. In today’s world a 1 billion dollar industry would not be ignored, and in fact would cause many American businesses to fall over each other to capitalize on it. Yet that was not the case then. Advertisers were more concerned with the backlash of their white consumer base than cashing in on the untapped revenue. African-Americans however wanted recognition on their status as consumers, and were tired of the imagery of themselves as cooks, porters, and agricultural workers on television and in movies.
Consumption became a key aspect of citizenship in society, because a positive depiction as consumers, paralled the fight for greater civil rights. But as African-americans continued to be ignored by Madison Ave, the lack of representation became a daily reminder of the forced exclusion of the American dream. The prevalence of ads during the early 20th century made advertising one of the primary image producing industries. As a result it was at the forefront of depicting stereotypes of African-Americans, thus they developed an adversarial relationship with advertising more than any other racial or ethnic group in the US.
When the 70’s arrived, the complexion of prime time television changed substantially. With shows like the Jefferson’s, Good Times, and Sanford & Son, African-Americans were portrayed more than just hired help, and began showing up more frequently in print and TV commercials. The problem was that many agencies did not have many, if any, African-Americans or any other ethnic groups working in their creative departments causing the continued public perception of the behaviors of those groups.
How Far Have We Come?
Just recently I was employed at an agency where I was the only African-American in the shop. I watched as ads flew out of the building targeted towards minority consumers yet was never asked my opinion on the creative. For example, I recall an instance when my agency was trying to come up with a viewbook for a college that was trying to attract minority groups. Besides myself at the time, we had a young African-American male intern who was currently in college, and yet again no one asked for his input either, which is unfortunate considering HE was the targeted demo. It seems the hierarchy at some agencies, usually older white males, have convinced themselves that they are marketing experts across the board, yet have no idea what motivates minority groups. And when they do apply their marketing “expertise” they are often times way off the mark and end up creating contrived characters and borderline offensive commercial spots.
Today African-Americans spend over 1 trillion dollars a year on consumer goods, however agencies and businesses continue to produce ads like the ones in this post to acquire a piece of that revenue, blind to the fact that they are still missing the mark and ultimately offending a large portion of the minorities that they are trying to appeal to in the process.
But the question is this…if agencies and businesses employed more minorities and encouraged their participation in targeted creative concepts, would they produce better campaigns and results for their clients and customers alike?